The Star of Togo
By Eddie D. Moore
Edwige pulled her tablet from a side pocket on her wheelchair and logged in to check her email. The lack of an internet connection at home was only an inconvenience during the rainy seasons. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky today, and the sun was warm on her dark brown skin. She watched the branches above her sway in the ocean breeze while she waited for the page to load and though she did not consider herself a believer, she said a short prayer nevertheless. Her parents had converted to Catholicism when she was still in grade school, but the accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down squashed her own faith at an early age. The grass below her wheelchair was well worn from the time she had spent piggybacking off the hotels unprotected WIFI connection. She released a heavy sigh when she did not see the email she expected and then continued her daily studies.
When Edwige was born, Togo was the only country on Earth ruled by a dictator, and when he died ten years ago, the military seized power as it had done many times before. Crowds gathered in the street and called for elections and a democratic government. The vast majority of the population eagerly craved the freedoms the rest of the world had come to take for granted but, during a national broadcast, General Jacques Nunziata proclaimed himself the new supreme ruler of Togo. Before he could speak the next sentence of his speech, a distant shot rang out, and Jacques collapsed behind the podium. General Antoine, who had been sitting beside Jacques, stepped over General Jacques’ body, approached the podium, and announced that elections would be held in thirty days. After a century of dictatorships, the people of Togo finally claimed their freedom and though still listed among the poorest countries on Earth, Togo prospered economically.
When Edwige was five, the GCSH, Global Coalition for Space Habitation, dominated the headlines with its plans to build several large, orbiting, self-sustaining biospheres. She told her parents that very evening that she was going to live in one of those biospheres; they both gave her a hug goodnight and told her that anything was possible if she put her mind to it. Her parents died seven years later leaving her too poor to continue her education in the classroom; so, she took every free Massive Open Online Course or MOOC that was even tangentially related to the education she would need to join a biosphere community. She had spent the last few years reading extensively and emailing various authors and scientists, eventually building a reputation as a problem solver. She wrote articles for scientific journals and various magazines. What she earned writing was barely enough to keep a roof over her head and food in her stomach, but she managed to scrape by. Her emails had started with her own questions, but before long, she was receiving questions and correspondence from several scientists involved in the GCSH biosphere project.
Dr. Arran, a British scientist developing hydroponic systems for the project, sponsored Edwige and arranged for proctored testing at the Catholic University of West Africa to confirm and document her level of education. After years of studying and networking, she had been given the chance to take the test that determined her eligibility of joining a biosphere crew, and now, she anxiously awaited the results.
Once she responded to all of her emails, Edwige downloaded several periodicals for later consumption and then moved to switch off her tablet. Just as she closed her browser, an email notification flashed and her heart raced when she saw the name, Dr. Arran. She tapped the icon to reopen the browser and waited impatiently for it to restart.
I’m happy to inform you that your eligibility scores were top notch, and I’m currently en route to Lome with a formal invitation for you to join the current team preparing to occupy the biosphere presently under construction. It is a ten-hour flight from London, but I should be there, rested, and ready to meet with you in the morning. I remember you often called me from the café Festival De Glass; I will meet you there at 9am. I apologize for the short notice, but I knew that you would be eagerly awaiting your results, and I wanted to personally see your face when I handed you your acceptance letter.
Edwige read the email several times and stared at the tablet in shock. This email was the proof that she was extraordinary, that she was capable, and a wonderful sense of self-fulfillment washed over her. Her eyes filled with tears, and she lost her grip on her tablet as her hands began to shake. Who would believe that an underprivileged woman living in such a poor country could use nothing but her mind to overcome the odds, reach for the stars and actually grab hold of them?
Fear, embarrassment and guilt overwhelmed her excitement as she thought about Dr. Arran’s visit; she had never told him or any of her contacts about her disability. She knew her paralysis disqualified her from joining a biosphere colony, but she had wanted to know that her childhood dream could have been more than a dream.
Suddenly, she hated her wheelchair, and the constraints that came with it. She beat on the side of her chair and hit the tree next to her until her knuckles were bloodied and she succumbed to her tears. If she could get her hands on that drunken son of a bitch that hit her and left her on the side of the road like a piece of trash when she was twelve, well, she would make sure that he never walked again either. People stared and kept a distance from her while she raged and screamed at the skies. Without this chair, the sky and stars would have been hers. She noticed, as she wheeled her way home, that her wheelchair had never before felt this heavy.
Edwige was still rubbing sleep from her eyes when she got to the café and the waitress, Sonia, greeted cheerfully with a light French accent.
“Good morning, Edwige.”
Edwige was in no mood to deal with Sonia’s cheer and, hoping she took the hint, responded flatly, “I’m expecting to meet someone today.”
“Good. I was afraid that you were just here for the WIFI connection again. Ulrich was very upset with you last time.”
Edwige’s lips thinned in annoyance. “I’m a paying customer, so Ulrich can stuff it.”
The last time Edwige had a confrontation with Ulrich she had ‘accidently’ rammed his shinbone with her wheelchair; it had given her great pleasure watching him limp around afterwards.
Edwige put her tablet on a booth and then scooted onto a bench facing the door, “Sonia, would you move my wheelchair to the corner? I would rather not block the isle. Oh, and I’ll have a water.”
Sonia gave Edwige an inquiring look and raised an eyebrow at the water request.
Edwige gave her a slight roll of the eyes, “Don’t worry. I will order something once my guest gets here.”
Sonia looked confused and clearly wondered why Edwige didn’t just wheel up to a table like she usually did, but she said nothing about it as she rolled the chair away.
Edwige sipped her water and wondered how she would break the news to Dr. Arran. She had no idea how she would tell him of her disability after he had done so much for her. He had arranged and paid for her testing, and now she would have to see the disappointment in his eyes in person. She felt her heart skip a beat; what would he say about her deceit; would he be angry and end the friendship that had come so naturally; would he want the money back that he had invested in her? If her legs would work, she would run as far and fast as she could from this café. She sighed to herself at the thought. If her legs worked, she would have no reason to run away.
The bell on the door chimed, and she looked up from her water. Dr. Arran wore a long sleeve dress shirt, despite the heat, and a bow tie that somehow suited him. They had video chatted often via the web, and she had never seen him without a bow tie. She had also noticed that he never seemed to wear the same one twice. She could not help but return his smile when he noticed her and strode toward the booth.
“I’m delighted to finally meet you in person, Ms. Edwige.”
“It’s completely my pleasure, Dr. Arran. I consider you a true friend. Please sit.”
As Dr. Arran eased into the booth he said, “Please, just call me Arran.”
“Only, if you call me Edwige.”
Arran smiled, nodded, and then pulled a letter from his pocket. “Edwige here it is, your ticket to the stars.” He put the letter in the center of the table, smiled, and watched Edwige.
Edwige fought back her tears, “Dr. … I mean, Arran, I have to tell you…”
A shout interrupted her mid sentence, “Edwige!”
She released a frustrated sigh and turned to glare at Ulrich. As always, his penurious attitude preceded him by three meters; she never understood how he managed to keep his job. If it wasn’t for the WIFI connection, she would have stopped coming here long ago. To her horror, he was pushing her wheelchair as he approached.
“I sure hope you and your ‘guest’ are both paying customers.” He let go of the chair long enough to make a gesture of quotation marks with his fingers for the word guest. I swear if you are just here to take up space, I will personally push you down the block just to be rid of you. What? Did you think I would not see you if you told Sonia hid the chair out of sight?”
Edwige couldn’t control her anger any longer. “Ulrich, you are such a merde! C’est des conneries! Quitter le fauteuil putain et aller!” She took a deep breath and forced herself to speak English. “We will be ordering the next time Sonia passes by.”
Ulrich left the chair beside Edwige’s bench and stomped back to the kitchen.
Reasserting control over her emotions, “I’m sorry Dr. Arran. I wanted to tell you about my condition, but I really wanted to know if I could’ve lived out my childhood dream, and I was afraid that I wouldn’t have been allowed to take the test if anyone had known.”
Dr. Arran motioned for the waitress and, to Edwige’s surprise, ordered a meal. “I took the liberty of researching the local cuisine while on my flight. I would like to try the akume and a cup of coffee would also be nice please.” Dr. Arran inclined his head to Edwige. “And you my dear?”
Edwige blinked and then turned her attention to Sonia, “Yes… I will have the same.”
Sonia walked away writing on her note pad, and Dr. Arran sent a quick message with his phone while he talked. “The GCSH is a vast organization with many resources. Your disability was discovered during the background check years ago.”
Edwige’s eyes grew larger with surprise, “And they still let me take the test knowing that I would be disqualified?”
Dr. Arran smiled, “Dear Edwige, Togo has been developing nicely for the last decade, but let’s face it, they aren’t building spaceships. In fact, I noticed as I passed some street vendors this morning, that there is still a sizable market for the severed animal heads used in Voodoo. If you are disqualified for medical reasons, it will be by doctors working for the GCSH. Don’t give up hope. The doctors in more developed countries can perform seemingly miraculous feats.” His phone received a message and vibrated on the table. “Ah, see here, I just received confirmation of your appointment with a good friend of mine, Dr. Barnaby Haroldson. He says he can see you Thursday afternoon.”
Edwige stared at Dr. Arran in shock while she let his words sink in. After a few moments she said slowly, “You mean they might be able to give me back my legs? I might be able to walk again?”
“It may be, but if they can’t, I will want you working for me in London any way.”
Edwige wiped the tears from her cheeks and nodded. “Thank you, Doctor…”
Dr. Arran held up a hand interrupted her, “Please just Arran.”
Smiling, “Thank you Arran. Do me a favor and keep that GCSH invitation; I don’t even want to look at it unless I can accept it knowing that I can use it.”
Dr. Arran nodded and pocketed the invitation. “There is a flight leaving for London late this evening. If that isn’t too soon, I would like us to be on it.”
Edwige used a napkin to wipe her face and nodded. “I don’t have much; I can be packed and ready to leave in minutes.”
The landing at the London City Airport left Edwige gripping the seat tight and sweating. The runway was narrow and practically surrounded by water. She wasn’t sure which scared her more, the idea of missing the runway and landing in the water or hitting the runway. She had to keep reminding herself that they landed planes successfully thousands of times every day around the world. As they drove away from the airport, the beautiful glass sided buildings left her speechless, and their sheer size left her slack jawed.
Her heart pounded against her chest as they approached the hospital. Its architecture drew the eye, and she noticed that her hands were shaking as the car stopped in front of the large double doors. Dr. Arran got out of the car first, removed her wheel chair from the trunk, and pushed it close enough for her to get out of the car and slide into the chair. She watched the car pull away through the reflection on the entrance doors as Dr. Arran pushed her inside.
The nurses wasted no time following the doctor’s orders, and they ran Edwige through several tests and imaging scans. She found it ironic that she was forced to wait hours on the doctor after the speed at which they managed to run the tests and scans. Apparently, technology had not found a way to prevent doctors from leaving patients waiting. She was looking around the room for an extra blanket, and attempting to open cabinets at the edge of her limited reach, when Dr. Haroldson finally stepped into the room.
Dr. Haroldson only paused for a fraction of a second before he understood. “Nice to meet you Edwige, I am Dr. Haroldson. I can see you have chills; let me get you a blanket.”
The doctor retrieved a blanket from the top shelf of the cabinet, and Edwige noted with a shake of her head that there is no way she could have reached it.
“Thank you doctor, it is a lot colder here than what I am used to.”
The doctor nodded his head. “I can imagine. I have finished reviewing the scans, and I believe there is a good chance that I can help you. It was discovered, accidently, about a century ago that electric stimulation could give patients some voluntary movement. Through this discovery the Shillcox treatment was developed. First we will surgically implant two small devices near the area where you spinal cord is damaged.”
Dr. Haroldson pulled a tablet from his pocket and showed Edwige a photo. “This device will use electricity to reawaken your legs. We will place several sensors on your legs, and when you begin to move them, the computers will transmit that information to the second device here; it will help reestablish and even build connections between your brain and legs.”
Edwige pushed down her excitement and wondered if she had misheard the doctor. Her eyebrows drew closer together, and she asked slowly, “Are you telling me that I will walk again?”
The doctor smiled and held his head higher. “My dear, there is a ninety-two percent chance that by the end of the month you will be jogging, just because you can, and the odds jump to ninety-eight percent within six weeks. The muscles are atrophied, but otherwise they are undamaged. We just have to get them reconnected and rebuild their strength.”
Fresh tears ran down Edwige’s cheeks, and she covered her face with both hands. When she looked up, she made no effort to hide her anger. “I have been bound to this chair since I was twelve. How long has the ability to heal me been available?” Her voice rose and shook as she spoke. “How long has the ability to heal me existed? How many people are struggle every day with a handicap and yet could be made whole?”
Dr. Haroldson knelt beside Edwige’s wheel chair. He placed a hand on her shoulder and spoke softly. “Every nation has to provide the best it can for its people with limited resources. The mission of the GCSH is to provide mankind with greater resources. The work we do will improve the lives of every person on the planet. If you want to make a difference in the world, your mind is focused the right direction, and we can do it together.” The doctor paused until Edwige looked him in the eyes. “I booked the OR for six in the morning. Are you ready to make the world a better place?”
Edwige nodded her head slowly.
Three weeks and four days later, Edwige was spending her free time in the exercise room running on the treadmill. She smiled to herself remembering her own disbelief when the doctor told her that she would be running just because she could. She pressed a button to increase the speed of the treadmill ‘just because she could.’ It did not take long for the extra speed to wear her down; she was still building strength in her legs, so she slowed the machine to a stop and, breathing hard, she sat on a bench against the wall. She closed her eyes and rested her head against wall behind her. She opened her eyes as the door opened, and Dr. Arran walked into the room followed by Dr. Haroldson.
Dr Arran had returned work after Edwige’s surgery, and Edwige hadn’t seen him since. A large smile spread across her face, she leapt to her feet, and ran into his arms. She kissed his cheeks and then leaned back her head to admire his bow tie. “Oh Arran, I really like this one.”
Dr. Arran adjusted his tie and returned her smile. “Good afternoon dear and thank you. I see you have made a miraculous recovery as I knew you would.”
Edwige met Dr. Haroldson’s eyes a moment and then turned her attention back to Dr. Arran. “I have you and Dr. Haroldson to thank for that.”
Dr. Arran’s smile slipped and he shook his head. “I do have a single regret concerning your recovery.”
Edwige gave him a confused look. “What would that be?”
“Well my dear, I rather hoped you’d be using that mind of yours to work for me.” Dr. Arran pulled the GCSH invitation from his pocket and nodded to Dr. Haroldson who held up his tablet to take a photo of Edwige accepting the invitation.
Edwige put an arm around Dr. Arran and smiled for the photo. Her heart was full of joy and admiration for Dr. Arran. Part of her wanted to toss the invitation and spend the rest of her life working beside Dr. Arran, but how often did someone offer you the stars?
Eddie D. Moore travels extensively for work, and he spends much of that time listening to audio books. The rest of the time is spent dreaming of stories to write and he spends the weekends writing them. His stories have been published by Jouth Webzine, Kzine, Alien Dimensions, Theme of Absence, Devolution Z, and Fantasia Divinity Magazine. Find more on his blog: https://eddiedmoore.wordpress.com/ .