When the alarm goes off John Hodges knows that it’s going to be a trying day. He reluctantly opens his eyes from the comfort of his king sized bed, praying that the alarm went off by mistake. No such luck.
“I’m late! Damn it.”
It’s 7:15. His alarm, normally his signal to finish his morning routine and walk out the door, is now his warning bell. It screams, ‘Why are you still in bed?’ John slaps the “Dismiss” button on the alarm with annoyance.
Downstairs, the sounds of life clattering in the kitchen spur him into action. If he can wash up quickly he can still get to the hospital on time. John gets out of bed and makes a bee line for the bathroom. His morning routine is important to him; get up, jog, come back home, eat, wash, brush teeth, moisturize, dress, out the door. But now his whole morning is out of order and it’s annoying him incessantly.
John brushes his teeth, all the while looking over his reflection in the bathroom mirror. There are small touches of grey that have become visible in his curly, closely cropped hair. It’s not a bad look as far as he’s concerned. Patients like to feel that their surgeon has a bit of experience under their belt. It makes him look more distinguished. Seasoned.
“Jonathan?” He hears his wife’s voice calling out to him from downstairs.
He wants to holler back at her and vent some of this built up annoyance but decides not to. She won’t hear him anyway. Instead, John takes it as a sign that he’s much later than he originally thought. He rinses out his mouth quickly and dresses.
As John descends the steps he is inundated with the smell of oatmeal coming from the kitchen. It makes him want to gag. It doesn’t matter though. He has no time to sit down and eat anyway. John turns the corner behind the steps and greets his family in the kitchen.
His wife, Kinaya sits at the kitchen counter with a healthy sized bowl of oatmeal. Her face is stern as she prompts her son to finish his breakfast. The baby, Isaiah has recently turned four and bounces happily in his Doc McStuffins pajamas as he eats oatmeal, unaffected by his mother’s stern warnings. He is at that age where the only person he cares about pleasing is his favorite cartoon character. For Isaiah, Doc McStuffins is God. No one else’s opinions matter.
“Morning daddy.” Isaiah cheers from his seat.
“Morning.” John responds casually. He gives Isaiah a quick kiss on the head but keeps his momentum rounding the kitchen counter.
He is about to take a look around for a quick breakfast when he notices the toast and the protein shake set out on the counter. Not exactly the breakfast of champions but today it is more than sufficient. John takes a bite of dry toast and picks up his shake.
“Thank you.” He says to Kinaya, a touch of embarrassment in his tone. Kinaya nods.
“You were late getting up today.”
“UNACCEPTABLE Daddy!” Isaiah yells a bit too excited. Kinaya gives him a silencing gesture.
“I know. Late night.” John replies, taking another bite of toast. “I have surgery this morning so leave a message with Michelle if you need me.”
“And I expect you will be out late tonight as well?”
John shoots Kinaya a quick look. It isn’t a casual question she is asking. Her tone hints at something unsavory. Was she implying something? Maybe he is just being paranoid.
It is odd. Nine years of marriage and John still has a hard time knowing exactly what Kinaya is thinking. It’s never been an issue for the two of them. Not until recently at least. Regardless, John pushes the thought away. Best not to think too much about it.
“Maybe. I’ll call you if I will.”
Kinaya nods in apparent understanding. She is already dressed and put together. She is flawless, as usual. Her hair is long and straight today, hanging down to her chest. Her blouse is a favorite of Johns – vibrant oranges, greens, yellows, and purple angular patterns and complimented with a purple pencil skirt.
Ever since they met, John has thought Kinaya looks like she was meant to be some kind of high fashion model. She looks good in anything she wears, but today, John notices that she is particularly dressed up. She is wearing eye shadow and blush in addition to her staple burnt red lipstick and black ‘cat-eye’ eyeliner.
She looks so out of place, John thinks, done up like that, sitting beside an excitable pajama clad four year old, elbow deep in oatmeal.
“Special event today?” John asks taking a sip of his protein shake.
“I’m being interviewed.”
“Interviewed? By who?”
“K-Cal9. They’re doing a story about the gallery. Specifically the ‘Isaiah’ piece.”
“Wow.” John nods with approval. “I guess that Facebook post really drummed up a lot of interest.”
Kinaya nods her head in silent agreement.
John is secretly congratulating himself. He realized – much more quickly than his wife- the power of social media and encouraged her to connect a facebook page, instagram, and twitter account to her gallery website. One of the Kinaya’s young assistants is in charge of updating and posting new info about the gallery and shared Kinaya’s most recent painting: a hyper realistic painting of their son Isaiah, face decorated in tribal paint and clad in a checkered shirt and cowboy hat. The picture got a lot of attention and was shared over a thousand times before the end of the day. Apparently, it has gained significantly more attention since then.
The rest of the meal is, with the exception of Isaiah happily smacking his oatmeal covered lips together, completely silent. John, finishes his toast, then rinses off his hands. He is already late and more than happy to get out of the house. Protein shake in hand, he leaves the kitchen and gives Isaiah another kiss on the cheek. He then turns and gives Kinaya a quick kiss on the cheek as well. She smiles, but just barely, and it makes John’s stomach churn a little.
Something is definitely up. He just doesn’t have time to ask about it.
“Alright, I’m getting out of here. Knock ‘em dead today.”
“You too Jonathan.”
“No Daddy, don’t knock anyone dead today. Knock ‘em alive, okay?”
John laughs heartily. Isaiah always has a way of doing that to him. Kinaya smiles as well, a real one this time.
“You’re right, you’re right. I’ll knock ‘em all alive.”
John can’t help himself, he gives Isaiah another kiss and hugs him tight. In the presence of his son, he can’t be the cool, collected, and aloof man he’s been his whole life. It’s simply not possible. And to think, just a few years ago, John was sure he never wanted children.
With his cuddles out of the way, John is finally able to peel himself away and put his business face back on. He grabs his leather briefcase from the counter (no doubt prepped by Kinaya anticipating his quick exit) and heads for the door.
“Bye Bye Daddy!” Isaiah calls out, waving from his seat. “Love you!”
John waves at his son, who is beaming brightly. Beside him, Kinaya sits; elbow perched on the counter, resting her chin against her fist. The way she stares at him cools the warm feeling Isaiah created – another feat which shouldn’t even be possible.
“I love you, Jonathan.” Kinaya says casually.
“Love you too.” John responds. But Kinaya has already turned back to her breakfast. Isaiah is still waving though, happy and oblivious to the silent tension between the two parents who adore him.
As John closes the door behind him, a familiar thought crosses his mind. “I have no idea what that woman is thinking.”
By the time John gets to the hospital, thoughts of Kinaya are out of his head. He is in his wheelhouse, in his element. There are no suspicious, wondering eyes peering into his soul; only the eyes of admiration and respect and even jealousy from his patients and staff. Dr. John Hodges, pediatric surgeon superstar. Dr. John Hodges, the hero who operates on children in third world countries for free, who’s face has been featured on medical magazines, who’s wife looks like she should be on the cover of Vogue, and who’s son is now the face of our multicultural society. This is who Dr. John Hodges is when he steps through the hospital doors and into his domain. This is the man everyone sees and it is the man he has painstakingly made sure people will always see.
He breathes in deeply the sterile hospital air of the pediatrics unit, as though getting fresh air for the first time all day.
“Good morning Dr. Hodges.” A pleasant dainty voice calls from the nurses station.
“Morning Michelle.” John answers.
Michelle flashes her signature award winning smile and resumes her work – which John appreciates greatly. There are only two African Americans on the pediatric ward: him and Michelle, the head nurse and even though it shouldn’t matter, it does. Two of the most important people in this ward are black and both are about their business. The state of the black union is sound for another day and he can work well, without the weight of representing his entire race squarely on his shoulders.
“Morning Dr. Hodges.” Another friendly voice calls out from the nurses station. This voice belongs to the wards newest nurse, Lorenzo, the heartthrob with the baby blue eyes and pitch black hair. He is a playboy and complete slacker but all the kids seem to love and gravitate towards him. He smiles from his seat as Michelle leans over his shoulder, no doubt looking over Lorenzo’s charts to make sure they’re correct.
John’s bullshitter smile returns.
“The Garcia boy is just about ready.”
“Thanks. I’ll check in on the family shortly.”
Julian Garcia, the boy with the broken heart. Although you wouldn’t know by looking at him. He is nearly as popular in the ward as Lorenzo but far, far more deserving. Everyone loves Julian’s big toothy smile and rambunctious personality, slowed only by his DORV defect.
In a few hours he will have fixed the flow of oxygenated blood from the aorta so that it comes from the correct ventricle and functions properly. He will have made a miracle happen for this family and Julian will be able to break hearts all over the pediatrics ward as he finally goes home. As John enters the Garcia’s room he can see the nervous optimism on the little boys face. He can see it in his parent’s faces too. Julian and Isaiah are around the same age and John silently gives his thanks that his son, for all intents and purposes, is perfect.
“Hello Julian. I’m Dr. John Hodges. I’m gonna fix your heart today. You ready?”
Immediately the apprehension melts from off Julian’s face. His mother smiles a large toothy smile that looks a lot like Julian’s, her eyes brimming with happy tears.
And unlike at home, he doesn’t have to strain his brain to know what she’s thinking.
When Kinaya Hodges wakes in the morning, the first thing she sees is the back of her husband’s head.
At some point between when she went to sleep and now, he’d come home. He hadn’t called her to let her know that he would be out late. He hadn’t done that for nearly a year now. She’d never pressed him to, so eventually he stopped doing it all together. No doubt, he’s come to the conclusion that she doesn’t care whether he checks in or not, which isn’t true. She’s just been brought up being taught that you don’t pester a man about his comings and goings. As she stares at the back of John’s head, she misses him. Silently.
A quick glance at the clock shows that it is exactly 5:30am. After years of the same routine, her body instinctively knows when to get up. This usually holds true for Jonathan as well but he shows no sign of stirring.
‘He must have been out very late after all’ Kinaya thinks. ‘Doing what, exactly?’ is her next thought. She has her suspicions, which she keeps to herself. No one likes a nag.
Kinaya slips out of bed, careful not to wake Jonathan so that she can begin her morning ritual. Sipping her tea and watching the sunrise has become a necessity. She doesn’t feel right without it. Kinaya brews herself a cup of hibiscus tea and saunters out onto the patio.
The patio has been a labor of love. Everything there has been put together with her and Jonathan’s own hands. The still beautiful koi pond was Jonathan’s baby. The edible garden all along the fence was hers. Together, they put down the stone slab flooring for the deck. Kinaya hand painted the stone herself. It is a piece she is still very proud of. Sometimes, Kinaya looks at the patio and it makes her reflect on the amazing things she and Jonathan can do when they work together. Most of the time though, she just enjoys sitting out there, watching the sun rise in the mountains, enjoying the warmth of the mug in her hands.
Out here, Mambore feels so far away it may as well be another planet.
Once her tea is finished and the sun is up, Kinaya takes a seat on the stone floor and does her morning meditation until the sound of restless feet prompt her that the day is beginning for the rest of the residents of her home. Or, at the very least, her son Isaiah – an early riser, just like his mom and dad. A quick glance at her cell phone confirms it. The time reads: 6:30. Time to start her day.
Kinaya leaves the tranquility of her patio getaway and is met with the sweet but mischevious face of Isaiah, clad in his Doc McStuffins pajamas. He already has toys in his hands and he races across the room. Kinaya is in awe of his unbridled energy. Isaiah couldn’t have been awake for more than a few minutes and it was still so early in the morning yet he was already up to something.
“Put those away.” Kinaya tells her son, putting on her ‘mommy voice’ – a mixture of ‘I love you unconditionally’ and ‘I will end you’.
“I need them Mama, it’s part of my morning ritual!”
Kinaya works hard to keep her amused grin in check. She has to be assertive mom right now, but it’s hard with him. “Is that so?” Is all she can muster in response.
“Yes Mama. I need to start the day off right. It’s my meditation!”
The side of Kinaya’s mouth curls in a grin. She stops it from growing too far but it’s too late. Isaiah sees it and he knows he’s won. Isaiah happily trots off into the den.
“I’m getting dressed. Have those toys away by the time I’m back downstairs.”
Kinaya leaves Isaiah to play while she prepares. She has an interview today with K-Cal9 and needs a bit more time to prepare than usual. As she picks out an outfit from her closet, Kinaya is a little less careful to be quiet, in the hopes that the noise of her morning routine will wake him up without her having to physically do it herself.
No such luck.
As Kinaya exits the bathroom, she can see that Jonathan slept soundly all through her shower and shows no signs of stirring. It’s not like him to sleep in so long and Kinaya wonders if maybe he is unwell. A sudden wave of concern causes Kinaya to wrap her towel quickly around her and press a hand to her husband’s forehead. She breaths a small sigh of relief when it feels normal. He is sleeping peacefully.
Jonathan is starting to get grey hairs. They freckle his dark black hair in an unobtrusive way. You’d have to be right up on top of him to notice. Kinaya runs a hand slowly across his hair, enjoying the feeling of his soft coils against her palm.
“Wake up.” She says, a little more aggressively than she intended. “Jonathan.” Her hand leaves his hair and taps him on the shoulder.
Immediately Jonathan’s face changes from a peaceful sleep into a painful grimace. One eye opens slightly but shows no focus. He mumbles something incoherent and Kinaya thinks she hears him say ‘Ok” which is enough for her.
Kinaya quickly changes into the outfit she picked out for the day and takes the time to put on make-up. Her natural hair is in a very traditional cornroll style, which Kinaya likes quite a lot. However, for the sake of the interview and keeping a certain kind of look, Kinaya opts for the long straight wig instead. Once the wig is fastened, she heads downstairs.
Isaiah is still playing in the den when she walks down and looks at her with a pleading look.
“Put them away.” Kinaya says, more stern than earlier this morning.
Isaiah groans but complies. Meanwhile, Kinaya puts on a pot of water for oatmeal and pulls out some milk and protein powder for Jonathan. He’s a finicky eater and usually prepares his own breakfast in the morning but Kinaya can tell he’ll be in a rush and most likely irritated by the time he comes down. Isaiah takes a seat at the kitchen counter, suddenly hungry.
“Is breakfast ready Mama?”
“Almost. Why? Did you work up an appetite?”
“Well that’s too bad, I’m only making breakfast for me.”
“That’s not fair!” Isaiah pouts.
“It is so! You had all this time to make breakfast and you played with toys instead.”
“But I can’t use the stove! I can’t even reach it!”
“Oh ho? Then you should have made cereal.”
“I can’t do that either!”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes you can make cereal?”
“No!” Isaiah laughs.
“You’re not making any sense. First it’s No, then it’s Yes. Which is it?”
“Yes, I’m sure I can’t make cereal.”
“Because the bowls are too high. And you said not to climb on the counter.”
“Hmm. I did say that didn’t I. Well then I suppose you’re right. I guess I should make some breakfast for you too.” Kinaya smiles, pouring the oats and milk into the pot. As it cooks, Kinaya blends a shake for Jonathan and toasts some bread for good measure.
It’s only as she places the toast on a plate that she hears shuffling footsteps upstairs. Kinaya takes a look at the clock. 7:30. Much later than usual.
“Jonathan!” Kinaya calls.
There is no response.
“Daddy’s gonna be late.” Isaiah says as though speaking a forbidden word.
“I don’t think so. Your father will probably get to the hospital exactly on time. But he prefers to be early.”
“To be early is to be on time. To be on time is to be late. To be late is UNACCEPTABLE!” Isaiah chants in excitement. He’s learned the phrase from his kindergarten teacher and it is quickly becoming a favorite of his.
“Shush!” Kinaya hisses, just slightly more than she meant to. “It’s too early to be yelling like that.”
Isaiah quiets down momentarily but is soon kicking excitedly in his seat again. It is amazing how quickly children can brush things off. ‘Like water off a ducks back’, Kinaya believes the saying is.
She finishes off the oatmeal with some cinnamon and brown sugar and serves up a generous sized bowl for herself and for Isaiah. The little boy smacks his lips together greedily, reaching out for his bowl.
“Thank you Mama.” Isaiah says preemptively, knowing full well that his mother will make a comment about him reaching out for things.
Kinaya places the bowl in front of him, then walks around the counter to sit beside him. She watches, eating her breakfast in silence, as Isaiah hungrily gobbles down his breakfast. There were mornings where his energy was just too much for her and then there were mornings like this, where she could just watch him happily.
That pure, exuberant energy inspired Kinaya to take Isaiah’s picture the day of the fair. Isaiah saw the kids getting their faces painted and wanted to get his done as well. But rather than a tiger or superhero face, Isaiah wanted to be a Masai warrior. The artist wasn’t really sure how to do it, so Kinaya stepped in to give her son a fun, though not truly authentic, Masai warrior look. The facepaint combined with the cowboy hat Jonathan won for him and his natural overflowing energy made him an irresistible sight. Kinaya snapped the photo and when she got home, was inspired to paint.
Hyper realistic paintings take a lot of work, but Isaiah is worth it.
‘They’ll probably ask about the day I took the picture.’ Kinaya thinks. She begins to go over exactly how she would tell that story to the reporter when she hears Jonathan come down the stairs. As she expected, he is in a mood.
Seeing him awake, his face holding back annoyance from his own late start, Kinaya’s guts churn in her stomach. She remembers the pangs of loneliness she felt falling asleep alone. Again. The loneliness that remained even this morning as she woke. She can’t help herself. Her expression hardens as he enters the kitchen.
Her whole life, Kinaya has been compared to a statue. This is why.
She doesn’t like people to know what she’s thinking. In order to protect herself, Kinaya has mastered the art of the hard yet unperturbed face. A serious face but not a mean or angry one. The face of a statue, it has intention and concentration but no feeling behind the eyes. It’s a face that has saved her life on more than one occasion. She doesn’t fear Jonathan the way she feared the things that caused her to develop that look, but old habits are hard to break.
The rest of breakfast is a blur. Kinaya vaguely recalls Jonathan saying good morning, her responding, and Isaiah shouting his usual ‘UNACCEPTABLE’ catch phrase among other things. Her ears perk just for a moment upon hearing Jonathan say that the name ‘Michelle’ and her skin flashes hot. Suspicion causes her mouth to betray her but only for a moment.
When she looks up at her husband he is staring at her. It’s not angry, but there is a hint of suspicion in his look. She can see the wheels in his head turning as he tries to decipher her, but Kinaya has put her face back on and eventually he looses interest.
No one has come as close to understanding her every nuance as Jonathan has. Every year they’ve been married, he gets better at reading her, even as he’s given up trying.
The rest of breakfast in uneventful. Isaiah brightens the mood once in a while with a laugh or a funny comment but, in all, the breakfast is silent. As Jonathan leaves for work, he gives Isaiah a hug and a kiss. Kinaya feels the slightest edge of jealousy as she sees them interact.
Jonathan has taken to fatherhood beautifully. She always knew he’d make a good father, even though he was adamantly against it for a while. Maybe he’d seen one too many sick and dying children in his life. Maybe it was something else all together. She honestly wasn’t sure. Regardless, Jonathan seems to love it now.
Soon, Jonathan is out the door and she and Isaiah are left to their own devices. After they finish their oatmeal, Kinaya takes Isaiah upstairs to wash up. Isaiah is very proud and very adamant about washing himself so Kinaya allows him to do so while she picks out clothes for him to wear today. She eventually settles on jeans and a black and purple checkered shirt.
By 8:20 Isaiah is washed, dressed, fed and ready to go. Kinaya touches up her make-up before picking up her son and taking him out to the car. It’s awkward carrying him, big as he is, while she’s wearing heels but there’s a part of her that wants to cherish whatever years she has left to carry him like this, so she does it anyway. Isaiah voices no complaint.
Kinaya drops Isaiah off at kindergarten and heads over to the gallery. The whole way she goes back and forth between rehearsing potential interview questions and deciding not to bother with it. She is surprised by her own nervousness. She has spoken to large groups before at length about her paintings. She’s had her picture in local papers both for her work and for Jonathan’s. Perhaps it is the idea of being on a news program that could be seen by hundreds, if not thousands, of people that has her stomach flipping.
The gallery is abuzz when Kinaya arrives. Her typically sleepy retreat has had much more traffic since the painting went viral, but the news that she is being interviewed by K-Cal9 has attracted more attention still. Her new intern Alese greets her at the door to her office teeming with excitement.
“Today’s the day Kinaya. You excited?” Alese asks through a wide smile.
“I suppose so, yes.” Kinaya places her purse at her desk, suddenly acutely aware of the amount of other work she has to get done today. True, the interview is an exciting thing but she still has gallery to run, events to plan, pieces to acquire. “Have we called back the electrician yet?” She asks sternly, her finger stopped on a bright pink sticky note placed on a stack of invoices on her desk.
“Uh, I’m sorry I’m not sure. I was waiting to hear back from Reese.”
“She’s not in yet?”
“She went out to grab the new rope stanchions before the reporter comes in.”
Her assistant Reese is a very nice girl, so much so that Kinaya has a hard time pressing on her the way she should. Repairing the blown out light fixtures on the second floor should take precedence over picking up new velvet ropes. Reese is letting this reporter distract her and it isn’t acceptable.
Kinaya sighs loudly and rubs her already fatigued temples.
“Thank you Alese, I’ll handle it. “
“I could – “
“No, it’s fine. Take care of whatever else needs to be done for the interview so I can concentrate on the these things here.”
“Sure.” Alese nods. She stands in the doorway looking at Kinaya as though awe struck. It takes Kinaya a moment to notice but when she does, she looks at the young intern confused.
“Is there something else?”
“No, sorry it’s just…”
“You’re amazing Kinaya. This interview, that painting – look at all the attention it’s bringing this place. This could literally put you on the map, it’s a career defining moment.”
“I suppose so.”
“But you look just as cool as ever. Like it’s just a regular Tuesday. You’re kind of awesome.”
Before Kinaya has a chance to respond, Alese leaves. A flush of embarrassment on her cheeks. Kinaya can’t help but to smile a bit.
An hour later, the reporter from K-Cal9 and her film crew arrives. A tall brunette in a flattering teal dress and comfortable shoes introduces herself as Sue Hershel. She and her team exchange hellos and pleasantries and quickly get to work, mapping out the shots they will take and setting up chairs and lights.
As they set up, Sue expresses some vague interest in the gallery but stops specifically on the Isaiah piece.
“So, this is a painting?” Sue asks in disbelief.
“Amazing. It really looks like a high definition photograph. I mean, you can’t tell it’s paint at all. How do you create that effect?”
“Time. A lot of time and patience.”
“I heard some hyperrealists use grids to ensure accuracy.”
“I don’t use grids. I just – I eyeball it. Some of my paintings end up looking more than real than others but that doesn’t bother me. This one though, I’m very proud of.”
The crew sets up their shot so Kinaya sits with her back to the painting. It hovers in the frame just over her shoulder. The interview itself is very relaxed and pleasant. Sue asks her about how long she’s been painting, how long the gallery has been open, how many other paintings she has like “Isaiah” and how the painting got on to the internet in the first place.
It’s a great bit of marketing for the gallery but not some career defining moment like Alese believes. Once Sue has asked all her questions, she gives Kinaya a firm handshake and she and her team wander the gallery. Every so often a producer will direct the cameraman to get a shot of a few of the gallery patrons or some of the more interesting looking art pieces.
When they’ve gotten all the B-roll they need, the news crew begins to pack up and Kinaya steps outside for some air.
It’s been cloudy recently. Kinaya stretches her tight achey muscles. The cool air feels good. For a moment it feels like home. Mambore, by the water as the sun is going down. It was always her favorite time of day when she was young.
For the briefest of moments she even misses it a little. She misses the land, the smell of the sea, the sound of people talking in her former homeland. She misses cool nights holding her little brother close to her, feeling his heart beat in his chest and singing songs in his ear.
Her skin prickles as other memories, less pleasant ones begin to creep in. She quickly casts them aside.
Her life here is wonderful. Her and Jonathan are going through a stale patch but that is normal when you’ve been married to someone for nine years. Still, she has a handsome successful husband who saves the lives of children with his gift. As many issues as she has, as many suspicions about him as she has, she can never deny him his gift and his intelligence and his looks.
She had the gallery. 6 years of hard work has been blossoming into something amazing and soon, the news surrounding her painting will bring fresh faces and fresh interest. She has a beautiful son who she couldn’t love more if she’d given birth to him herself. Isaiah is Kenyan, just like her. Not from Mambore but he is a relative to her knowledge. He is all the piece of home she needs.
‘Put it out of your head. What’s past, let it stay there. Bury it in the sand and move forward.’ Kinaya speaks to herself breathing deeply the cool moist air. As she opens her eyes, she feels a single drop of water catch her on the cheek and she wonders if it might actually rain soon.
She hardly has time to register the sound of tires screeching before the world goes black.