Everyone was dressed for church except Dan.He had worked non-stop since returning to Algiers and was exhausted.He joked and said the other doctors were trying to extract payback for his long “vacation.”The hospital administrator even said if Dan had time to fall in love and get married, he must have enjoyed his time away.Dan chuckled and continued to see patients at the hospital.He typically had two or three medical students following him each day.Dan had always been self-assured, but now he had a commanding presence that he didn’t possess before.He had picked up that attitude while working at the Duke Medical Center.He was recognized as the smartest and most highly skilled fellow in Durham, and he brought that self-assuredness back to Algeria.
Most nights, Dan would arrive home after the children had eaten.He and Mark would sit on the patio and enjoy a light meal while ruminating about their day.Dan’s days were filled with patient care, but also, he was being pressed into service to help design the medical delivery services in the time of Covid19.He was thankful that he wasn’t providing care to C19 patients because he would have felt a need to self-isolate.He didn’t want to isolate and miss a minute with his family as they were exploring Algiers.
The aunts had booked an engagement with Belinda to take her shopping one morning.Security was now at a higher level because many of the bandits who typically preyed on people on the edge of the desert were making their way into the city.With her fair hair and skin, Belinda was ripe for picking for slavery and being sold deep in Africa.The aunts had security men who worked on their properties to keep beggars and vagrants at bay, and they were their de-facto security staff when the aunts went out.Robert had insisted that he would also accompany Belinda whenever they were out of the compound.Sufiyan did not let the others know, but he and Cecilia followed them in the Land Rover.He was prepared to rescue his goddess and her brother if trouble presented.Cecilia had developed a plan to scoop Belinda in her arms, cover her with hijab, and secret her from the marketplace.Sufiyan was to rescue Robert, and together, all four would escape together.Sufiyan decided the aunts could fend for themselves.
The aunts, particularly Josefina, was insistent that Belinda needed some jewelry.They couldn’t understand why she didn’t have her ears and nose pierced.Mark just about stroked when this was mentioned.Mark said that she was too young.They eventually negotiated that she could have her ears pierced.Mark was adamant that no nose piercing was allowed.When Belinda returned from her shopping and lunching with the aunts, she wore sapphire earrings and had a charm bracelet.The aunts thought it would be appropriate dangling from her wrist.They had each bought her a charm.When one bought her a Mogen David, another bought her a cross.Belinda saw the sliver moon of the Islamic faith and asked if she could also have that.The aunts had a hard time refusing the child.Robert had convinced the aunts to let him get one ear pierced, and he had a hoop placed in it.He thought he looked like a pirate.There were plenty of pirates who plied the seas along the coast, and he was fascinated by the stories of their exploits.
Mark told Dan of his struggle to remain civil when Belinda and Robert returned with the aunts.He had no idea that Robert would want a pierced ear.Mark had invited the aunts to the patio, where Cecilia served iced drinks, dates, and small pastries.When Belinda and Robert showed up on the patio, one of the aunts said she had one more present for Belinda.It was another charm.Not to be outdone, the other aunts had secretly purchased additional charms for Belinda.They were for future events, but when one aunt showed off, the others decided they were not going to be one-upped.Sufiyan found a pair of pliers so that Mark could attach the additional charms to the bracelet.There was now a jingle from the various gold ornaments when Belinda moved her wrist.
After the aunts left, Mark made both Belinda and Robert sit and write thank you notes to the aunts.Good manners would go a long way with these formidable women.He knew the day would come when there would be a huge blow-up, and he didn’t want past grievances being laid at his feet.Past grievances were often petty events nurtured and fed until they reached a level of importance far above the actual infraction.
Mark met with Uncle Samuel.It had been a courtly meeting.Uncle Samuel had been very deferential, and they made small talk.Mark knew that the most important topic was not being addressed, but he didn’t know what that was.He also didn’t know how to ask the purpose of why Uncle Samuel was meeting with him.Finally, Mark stood and told Uncle Samuel it was so good to see him and hoped that he would visit often. Uncle Samuel jumped up from his seat like it was on fire.He was hedging and hesitating, saying good-bye.He then reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out an object, and placed it in Mark’s hand.Mark looked and saw a gold ring made in the shape of a Lion’s head.The glistening eyes were rubies.
“This ring has always been worn by the head of the family.I do not want that title, and I am formally requesting that you be the head of the family.”
Mark looked at the beautiful ring.
“I am honored, Uncle Samuel.I should talk with Dan because this ring came down through your family, and it should rightfully be on his finger, not mine.I am head of the family in this house but not the entire L’Oranise family in Algeria.”
“I have already spoken to Daniel and told him what I planned to do.He said it was right and proper.”
Mark nodded his head while he pondered what Uncle Samuel had done.Mark then motioned for them to be seated again.
“Tell me what it means to be head of the family.What do you and the aunts expect?Tell me about the other family members. I do not want to assume responsibility until I fully understand what you need from me.”
Uncle Samuel laid out for Mark what he had thought was involved in this position.Mark nodded his head while the academic in Uncle Samuel would recite chapter and verse of the family history.After an hour of talking non-stop, Uncle Samuel looked sheepish and apologized for being so verbose.
“I want to make sure that you know that we already hold you in high esteem.My sisters are more than I can manage.My nieces and nephews need a strong man to respect and follow.I love my libraries and research but do not have the strength of character when they start squabbling.My sisters are already saying that you have the wisdom of Solomon.There is no higher honor in our family unless they call you Rebbe.”
Mark slid the ring on the fourth finger of his left hand.It was a perfect fit.Mark thought the very idea might be possible because he had married not just Dan, but his family.He wore the wedding band from Dan on the middle finger of his left hand.Mark stood again, and Uncle Samuel joined him.The man was smiling and looked very relieved.
That night when Dan got home from the hospital, they were sitting at the table eating when Dan noticed the ring.He reached out and held Mark’s hand.
“This is as it should be.You honor me.You honor our family.”
There was nothing more to be said.The two had no discussion about Mark’s position in the family.It was done.
Uncle Samuel had started taking Robert to Torah study on Saturday morning and told Belinda that girls were not allowed.Belinda went to the aunts to learn how to celebrate Shabbat.Mark and Dan were surprised on Friday night when Belinda lit the candles on the table and asked Dan to lead them through a Shabbat meal.Erin couldn’t decide whether to participate but knew it would be rude to leave the dinner table.Mark smiled, thinking that Belinda would eventually worm her way into the Jewish faith and get what she wanted.
Now, it was Sunday morning, and Erin had asked if they could go to Notre-Dame d’Afrique Basilica.It was built in a neo-Byzantine style and looked much older than its years as it wasn’t completed until 1872.The Catholics in Algiers would say to the people in Paris that they had their own Notre-Dame.It was not as large as its Parisian sister, but that didn’t matter to the people of Algeria.
When they were dressed, they met in the foyer where Sufiyan was waiting to chauffeur them.Erin looked at Belinda and started chewing on her lip.Belinda knew something was wrong and waited a while for her nan to say something.
“You need something to cover your head.I don’t know what they do in the United States, but here you wouldn’t go into church without your head covered.”
Erin went to her room and returned with a white lace handkerchief that she had purchased for Patti. She saw this as an emergency and therefore had preference.After Erin pinned the lace to Belinda’s hair, they got into the Land Rover with Sufiyan driving.When they were deposited in front of the Basilica, Sufiyan made clear for them to wait there until he returned.He was concerned about them wandering around the city on their own.He said twice for them not to leave until he returned.
Belinda was wearing her pectoral cross and was the first one into the massive church.The greeter caught his breath at seeing the cross on Belinda.She smiled and offered a blessing when he handed her a bulletin.The rest of the family followed Belinda up the center aisle.She chose row number six.She liked to sit close to the front.They all reverenced the altar before taking their seats.Erin was thankful they did not embarrass her by not knowing proper church etiquette.
Robert and Belinda understood the entire service, which was conducted in French.Erin followed most of it.Mark was picking up more of the language as he understood the structure of the Mass.When the service ended, and the priests were recessing, Belinda slipped from her seat and started walking with them.There was a bit of a kerfuffle in the narthex.They didn’t understand why a young girl was wearing a pectoral cross; she explained that she was clergy at Duke Chapel in the United States.No, she was clear, the chapel was not Catholic and wanted to know why that mattered.Belinda grew weary of them asking her endless questions and walked to the great West Doors, where she commenced her routine of thanking people for attending and offering a blessing for the sacred day.Mark stood back amused while Erin pulled on his coat sleeve and said that he should stop her.
“Good luck with that, Erin.She is God’s anointed, and I am not messing with God.I have already had enough bad luck in my life.”
“Women are not allowed to do what she is doing, Mark.The Pope doesn’t allow it.”
“Well, Erin, I don’t see the Pope anywhere around, so unless the priests chase us off, she is going to do what she has always done.”
Erin wasn’t sure if a bolt of lightning was going to come piercing through the roof and kill them or whether it would occur when they walked into the plaza in front of the Basilica.She had never seen such sacrilege as a young girl wearing a pectoral cross and blessing people.The nuns at home wouldn’t dare cross that ecclesiastical line.As they were getting into the car, Mark suggested to Belinda that she write the Dean of Duke Chapel to let him know what she had done.Mark thought the Dean would be interested that Belinda was carrying forth the ministry of the Chapel on a different continent.He could only chuckle at the reaction of the priests.Little did they know what Belinda had planned.
Dan was napping on a chaise when they returned from church.He laughed when Belinda told him about wishing everyone a blessed day.She told him how it was a good thing he had taught her French so she could explain to the priests precisely what she was doing.Dan looked at Mark and smirked.
“There is no keeping her down.You know that she is a goddess who has been sent to live with us.”
“I am getting used to that idea.Belinda is leading us because I have no idea what it means to be a goddess.”
Erin looked at them with her eyes sparkling, “then you should come to Holy Ireland where we have imps and sprites and fairies and goddesses, and of course, blessed St. Patrick.I feel more Celtic when I am with you because this is somewhat beyond anything allowed in blessed Ireland.There are many myths and tales of the Celtic people, but maybe they are just truths that we cannot understand.”
Cecilia had a light lunch ready for them.They ate, and then Mark announced it was time for naps.He didn’t plan to sleep but needed Dan in their bed.It had been another busy week at the hospital, and Dan needed special attention from his husband.Mark started by giving Dan a massage using a fragrant oil, then made him lie on his back while he kissed and licked his body.Dan was moaning one minute, and then Mark heard him lightly snoring.Mark chuckled and knew that their lovemaking would continue but that his husband was physically exhausted. Mark pulled Dan into a spooning position, and they both fell asleep.
Sufiyan knocked on the bedroom door and didn’t receive a response.He knocked again, louder this time.He heard voices, and then someone said to come in.Mark and Dan were lying in bed with a sheet covering their legs and abdomen.They were flushed.
“Dr. Daniel, there is a boy at the door.He says he is here to see you and the master.”
“Do you know him, Sufiyan?”
“He is the grandson of your aunt Rachel.”
“Take him to the patio and give him something to drink.We will be with him momentarily.”
“Yes, Dr. Dan.”
Sufiyan backed out of the room and closed the door.Dan looked at Mark and shrugged his shoulders.
“You are the most remarkable man in the world, my master.I love you more than life itself.We will continue later as I need filling again.”
Mark pulled Dan to him and kissed his mouth.He was so in love with his husband.
“You are my master.I am like a dog waiting for you to pet me.I am ever ready to please you.I will do whatever you want and follow you anywhere.I am nothing without you.”
Dan could only grin at the acclimation.Actually, Mark had mounted Dan like a dog a few minutes before Sufiyan had knocked on the door.They kissed and were ready to continue when Dan said they had a guest waiting.
“I know that my aunt has a grandson, but I don’t believe I have ever met him.Let’s see what he wants.”
They walked into the shower and washed off the most obvious signs of their lovemaking.They put on cotton draw-string trousers, linen shirts, and sandals and walked to the patio holding hands.They needed to touch each other and were flushed with love that flowed from them.
A boy stood in front of them.Mark thought he was the most beautiful child he had ever seen.His eyes were green and lit up when he saw the two of them approaching while holding hands. His skin was the color of café-au-lait, and he had the longest fingers that Mark had ever seen on a boy.He was tall and painfully thin.Mark decided he was more beautiful than handsome.Beside the boy were a piece of luggage and a case for a musical instrument.
Dan greeted the boy in French, and Mark understood what was being said.They spoke a few more words, and Mark could tell that Dan was starting to get upset.Mark placed the palm of his hand in the middle of Dan’s back.Dan looked at him with a look that screamed, “help.”
Mark reached out his hand in greeting to the boy, who returned the gesture.Mark then indicated that they should be seated.Mark called for Sufiyan and asked that he get Robert and Belinda to join them.The boy drank the juice and ate the food that Cecilia brought him.Mark knew the boy had not eaten in a while, given that he almost inhaled the food.Mark asked that more food be brought for everyone.
When Belinda and Robert appeared, they were surprised to see the young boy sitting at the table.The boy jumped up, pointed at himself, and in English said, “Ehud.My name is Ehud.”
Robert gave Mark a questioning look and then turned to smile at the boy.
“My name is Robert, and this is my sister, Belinda.”
Belinda blushed when she looked at Ehud.
They all ate and tried to have a conversation, but Ehud wasn’t disclosing much about himself.Finally, he looked at Mark, sighed, and asked if he could speak to the head of the L’Oranise family - in private.Mark didn’t know that family problems were going to present themselves so soon.
Mark took Ehud to the front room and instructed everyone to stay on the patio while they talked.Mark indicated a chair for Ehud to sit in and then sat on a sofa.Ehud sat gently as if he was in pain.Mark waited for the boy to speak, yet he sat in silence.
“Ehud, you came to see me.Here I sit.What do you need to say?”
Ehud looked at the floor and then raised his head to look directly into Mark’s eyes.
“I need your protection.”
“What kind of protection.From whom?”
“From my parents.My grandmother Rachel said for me to come to see you.She said you would help me.”
“Why do you need protection from your family?”
“They plan to kill me.”
Mark was startled by the declaration.
“Tell me more.”
Ehud laid out his bill of particulars.His mother was Jewish and had married an Ethiopian man who converted to Islam and now followed Shari law.As he grew, Ehud refused to perform the rituals expected of boys to transition to manhood.His father was continually berating him and saying that if he didn’t cooperate, he would never be allowed to live with their tribe.Then the worst of the worst happened when Ehud was found with another boy.He heard his parents talking that night, saying he was of the devil and must be sent out to perform a pilgrimage that would determine whether he could continue to live with them.He was to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.On his own.
Mark didn’t know the specifics but knew that climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro was beyond the capabilities of many able-bodied men.Surely, this boy would have died trying to climb the mountain.
“Why Mt. Kilimanjaro?”
“My name is Ehud Daniel Kilimanjaro.My father’s ancestors took the name because it has always been a rite of passage in our family to climb the mountain.Only those blessed by the gods come down from the mountain and then go to the Serengeti plains afterward where there is a celebration of manhood with the killing of an ox.”
“How did you get here?”
“Normally, a father and son climb together, but my parents delivered me at the foot of the mountain.My father said he was not going with me, that it was my journey to make alone.They gave me money to leave for the gods on the mountain and to pay for transport home. They watched me take the first steps up the mountain, and once I was out of sight, they left.I understood that I had been sacrificed to the gods of the mountain.I walked back down and found a caravan traveling from the Serengeti to the port of Algiers.I gave them all of the money I had, and they brought me with them.”
“Why aren’t you at your grandmother’s house?”
“She is afraid.When my father finds out I am alive, he will try to kill me.He says I have dishonored the family.My Bibi is afraid that if she keeps me that he will kill her also.She told me you are as wise as Solomon.”
“Where do you plan to live?”
The boy did not answer.Mark saw tears running down Ehud’s face.Mark twisted the family ring on his finger and knew what he had to do.
“You are staying with us while we figure this out.I will have Sufiyan show you a room where you can sleep.I suggest you take a bath before dinner.How is that you know English?”
“My mother worked at the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa and learned the language, and then she taught me.I know Hebrew, Arabic, French, and English.”
Once again, Mark felt his language skills were put to shame.
Mark stood, and Ehud jumped up.Mark could see a look of pain cross Ehud’s face.
“Welcome to our home.”
Ehud threw his body against Mark’s and held onto his waist.
“You are Solomon.I promise I will be no problem.”
Mark rubbed his hand across Ehud’s head and realized that he needed not only a bath but also a good shampoo.
“How long did it take you to get here?”
“I will tell Cecilia to make a special dinner for tonight.You also need to meet Nan, who is the children’s grandmother.”
Mark called Sufiyan and told him that Ehud needed a bedroom and would be staying with them.Sufiyan bowed, and when he stood upright, he looked at Mark like he wanted to tell him something.
Sufiyan took Ehud to the bedroom while Mark continued to sit on the sofa.He needed to think.Mark was in a quandary, as he didn’t understand the customs and didn’t want Ehud’s father arriving at their home wanting to kill the boy.Mark wouldn’t let that happen if he could help it, and he certainly didn’t want Dan or the children to be at risk.He knew without a doubt that he could not turn this boy away.
Mark decided he would talk to Uncle Samuel.
Sufiyan appeared at the door and said that he saw bugs crawling out of the boy’s tote and didn’t think it should be brought into the house.Mark asked him to have Ehud unpack it in the yard and for everything to be washed before being brought inside.Mark looked at the hand that had rubbed Ehud’s head and decided that a good handwashing was in order.
Sufiyan took the vehicle and made a quick trip to the bazaar to see if anyone was there selling clothes on a Sunday afternoon.There were a couple of vendors who did not observe the Christian sabbath who sold him some clothes.Sufiyan knew that Mark would want the boy to have better clothes, but these would do in the interim.He arrived home and found Ehud naked in his bedroom.Sufiyan explained that his clothes were being washed and that he had brought him something else to wear.Ehud had tears in his eyes as he looked at the new clothes; he had never been given new clothes.While Sufiyan helped Ehud put them on, he noticed the marks on Ehud’s back, buttocks, and thighs.The boy had been beaten many times.
Sufiyan led Ehud to the patio where the family was gathered.Cecilia had put out food for them to snack on while dinner was being prepared.Sufiyan indicated to Mark that he needed to talk.
“Mr. Mark, that boy, he has been beaten.I have seen that kind of beating among the tribal people.Some people die from those beatings.His back, it is raw.Should I tell Dr. Dan?”
“Thank you, Sufiyan.I will have Dr. Dan help him.
Mark paid attention to Ehud and could see the pain in the boy’s eyes.Belinda asked about his musical instrument, and Ehud said he played and sang.After they finished dinner, Ehud took the oud from its case and tuned the strings.He then started playing and singing while sitting cross-legged on the patio deck.They were all taken with his skillful playing and beautiful voice.It was if an angel was in their midst.
Mark called an early end to the evening and told Ehud that Dr. Dan would help him with his pajamas.There were no pajamas.Dan didn’t know why Mark had said he would help.Mark pushed them both toward Ehud’s bedroom.Mark kept Belinda and Robert on the patio where he talked about them having another brother.Mark looked up, and saw Dan standing in the doorway.Dan was actually shaking and had tears in his eyes; he then turned and walked back into the house.Sufiyan appeared and announced that he was driving Dr. Dan and Ehud to the hospital.
Belinda and Robert were both concerned about Ehud and wanted to go with them.Mark told them that they would all visit Ehud the next day.Belinda was not happy.She was immediately smitten with this beautiful boy and couldn’t stand the thought that something might be wrong with him.Mark tossed and turned all night after not hearing from Dan.
The morning dawned bright and hot.Mark was about to call the hospital when he heard a car in the drive.Dan walked in the front door after exiting the taxi.He looked devastated.He went to Mark, wrapped his arms around his husband’s neck, put his head against Mark’s chest, and wept.Belinda and Robert were astounded as they had never seen Dr. Dan that upset.
“He is going to be okay.You should have told me sooner.Another day and sepsis would have set in and taken him away.How can people be so cruel?”
“What does septic mean, Daddy Dan?”
“The term is sepsis.It is blood poisoning.Our Ehud is very ill right now.I stayed with him all night because he should not be alone.”
“Daddy, take me to the hospital. I need to see Ehud.”
“Finish your breakfast, Belinda, and if Daddy Dan says you can see Ehud, then I will take you.”
“I think we all need to take shifts to stay with him.After I shower, you can take me to work, and you can sit with Ehud.He would enjoy being with Belinda and Robert.He asked about them several times last night.He was afraid they wouldn’t like him if they knew what happened.”
Erin spoke up and said she would take the evening shift.Mark decided a conversation with Uncle Samuel was needed that morning.When they arrived at the hospital, they were given gowns, masks, and gloves.Belinda balked until Dan explained how infectious Ehud was.
“Darling, Ehud was very sick last night.He said angels were visiting him. He had a very high fever.”
“No, Daddy Dan, I asked the angels to stay with him.When I heard you were taking him to the hospital, I spoke to Sister Mary Agnes, and she said that angels would be there to look out for him.”
Dan had witnessed the power of his daughter before and did not question that she had done precisely that.It was comforting for Dan to know that the Goddess Belinda was taking care of Ehud.The boy needed all of the help he could get.