She was drowning. It was four in the evening. Solid bars of golden sunlight seeped in through the French windows on the left. Endless rows of books were stacked along the right wall- each of them was properly and alphabetically arranged. One could smell the fresh polish on the wooden floor. A huge globe in bronze stood at the far end of the hall. A glass table stood at the center. There on the table rested three cups of tea- each of them left untouched.
She held her cup a little tighter, trying to extract as much warmth as she can from it. Her eyes darted across the hall seeking refuge; be it from the books or the expansive gardens beyond the French windows. She was sure that the temperature in the room had dropped two degrees after her last statement.
Three pairs of eyes looked at her. The silence in the room was starting to become unbearable. She finally decided to pretend to admire the craftsmanship of her shoes; those which had caused a painful itch at the back of her heel. The first thing to do after she survived the present situation was to get rid of these.
“Are you absolutely sure?” he drawled.
She looked up at him. He was one of those people who had the talent to appear the same from outside as they were from within. He was her uncle, someone who had become synonymous to strict and scary. Maybe the fact that his visits always coincided with her getting a reprimand from her parents had something to do with it. She always felt weak in knees when she was forced to look up and meet his eyes. But not today.
“Yes”, she replied evenly as she looked at him straight in the eye. She scanned his face for even the faintest evidence of shock or anger, but in vain. His equally parted hair remained prim and perfect. His thick black plastic framed glasses magnified his solemn black eyes. There was not a fringe on his black suit nor a single speck of dirt on his black leather shoes. Black and white. He had always been black and white to her, there were no shades of gray when it came to him.
“Alright then.” he said at last and stood up. Her parents scrambled to stand up but she took her time. She was not going to cower away in front of him anymore.
“I suppose I don’t have any more business here. Martha, excellent tea as always. Ben, hope to see you this fall at the expo. Alex…” he trailed off.
Silence ensued once again. For the first time Franklin Robertson was at loss of words. Something akin to a triumphant creature danced inside her. He nodded once, picked up his briefcase and strode off across the hall through the door into his car that waited outside.
It was after the roar of the engine had faded away that Benjamin Robertson took his first sip of tea.
“Even though he did not touch his cup,” he started, “he was right. Martha, you are a wonder. You know we could-“
“May I leave?” Alex asked.
“Yes, yes of course dear!” Martha exclaimed. Her brown eyes worried with concern for her child.
She wanted to comfort them, talk to them and reassure them that everything would be alright. But at the same time she wished to be alone. She was suffocating in the same hall she had always sought refuge in. She needed to go. She jerked her head in half a nod and rushed out of the hall, through the gardens beyond her mother’s well-tended orchids.
When she finally reached the fountain she looked around her once and finding the garden scarce gave way to the tears that had been building up inside her from the moment he had walked out. When the sobs subsided she realized she had reached there- the beginning of the end.