I want Hannah to come back with me.
I’d played my last trump card, but it worked. Mama-Witch hushed the baby, Hannah gasped, and Father Angelo raised himself out of his chair and looked upwards, lips moving as if in silent prayer.
I’d been seated too long, and I also stood up and squinted into the sky in case another seagull was targeting me, but apart from one lost cloud that partially obscured the sun, empty blue skies prevailed to the horizon.
A glorious day.
A warm glow inside, my luck changing for the better.
Until Hannah spoke.
‘Meester Charles, I can go with you? Be together..?’
Now I felt entangled in my own web, especially when Father Angelo nodded his approval.
‘I misjudged you,’ he said, rubbing his hands, ‘you are indeed an Englishman with honour.’
I inclined my head. ‘Your faith in me is much appreciated, Father….but my financial situation precludes such a commitment.’ I tossed another rabbit into the pot. ‘And Hannah is well aware that I lost my fiancée to the tsunami.’
Father Angelo frowned. ‘What?’
Now my religious card came into play. I hoped it wasn’t a joker. ‘Weakness of the flesh, Father. Hannah was...comforting me.’
Father Angelo’s lips tightened. I thought his angst would burst from his throat, but then a shadow passed over his face, and the moment faded. ‘It looks like rain,’ he said.
I kept quiet and followed his gaze. The lost cloud had been found by other more menacing comrades, and they were hustling our way.
A cool breeze plucked at my trouser cuffs.
Father Angelo held out a hand. ‘Shall we go inside and take tea,’ he said, ‘and we can listen to what Mr. Charles is going to propose.’
A few raindrops fell on my head.
I wasn’t off the hook.
In the end it was a very British compromise: Hannah would get her job back, and I would support her and her family, with Mama-Witch taking care of the baby. In return, Hannah would help me open a bank account here — a transfer access from my UK account — and, in the meantime, lend me the necessary from her severance pay to fund my visa and our trip back to the House. Together.
But we skirted around the relationship issue. As Father Angelo said to Mama-Witch, “it’s a private matter”.
Not yet wriggled free — there were conditions.
Being an honourable Englishman, I reinstated my pledge to donate to St Michael’s and — with Father Angelo’s prompting — Berko’s Christian Mission.
And that was that.
While Mama fed the baby and Hannah washed up the tea cups, and with the passing of the tropical shower, Father Angelo led me to the somewhat neglected garden area behind the church. He came straight to the point.
‘Hannah, and her family, is part of my flock,’ he said. ‘And I have welcomed you in our midst. I would be very disappointed if you lead her astray, Mr Charles.’
Had I been that transparent?
The air stilled, but I could smell freshness in the air, a new beginning, and somehow I felt indebted to this cherubic-cheeked priest who prised open my conscience and challenged me to take a more righteous path.
I swallowed. ‘Hannah will be safe with me,’ I said. ‘I can promise you that.’
‘I truly hope so,’ he said, fingering the crucifix dangling from his neck, as if to emphasise his message. Then he gazed in the direction of the church, where four young boys were kicking a ball — his boisterous orphans, I assumed. He turned back to me and sighed. ‘But now, please excuse me, I have other matters to attend to.’
He trotted off towards the boys, leaving me to fulfil my end of the bargain with Hannah and Mama-Witch — securing my new family’s future.
How do I explain that to Delcie?
There were too many imponderables, least of all keeping my word. The picture had been outlined, it was time to fill in the gaps. I would have a long and meaningful conversation with Hannah on our way back to the House — that’s if I could make her understand.
I needed a drink. Vodka would go down fine.
Hence, back inside the kitchen with a lot of hand-gestures and meaningful actions, I told Hannah to meet me at the nearby Chinese restaurant by Lake Toba — suitcase and money in hand — with a taxi to take us back to Medan.
A few wet patches outside the restaurant were drying up, and I chose to park myself within eyesight of several Batik boats with curved hulls waiting to embark from the pier. Beyond the deep-blue waters, in the distance, acres of pine forest covering mountain slopes.
Peaceful and quiet.
Unlike the tsunami.
Three large gin and tonics later, and with my trolley-bag resting against the leg of a rickety wicker table, I decided enough was enough, and called Hannah. Her phone was engaged. I left it for ten minutes, and called her again. Still busy.
I ordered another drink.
A ham and cheese sandwich.
One for the road.
Another half-hour passed, and my perfect world was disintegrating before my eyes. The sun, now sinking below the horizon, ushered in an evening haze. Harbour boats became blurs, and my repeated phone calls met with silence.
What was happening?
I didn’t want to leave my meeting place in case Hannah showed up and, more to the point, I’d overspent on G&T’s. Now, day-trippers were making their way from the ferry up the road towards me, and the restaurant filled up.
‘Can we park ourselves here?’
A female voice behind me. I swivelled round to see my backpack saviours — Jack? And Sheila? — waving. Red faces, wind-swept hair, but smiling.
‘Help yourself,’ I said. ‘Had a good day?’
Jack — or was it Jake — put an arm on my shoulder and squeezed. ‘Hey, where you been? It was beauty, mate.’
‘Cool,’ I said, moving my trolley-bag to one side.
Sheila slipped into her seat, nodded at my bag. ‘You leaving town?’
Jake signalled to the waitress. ‘Time for a few tinnies, before you set sail, mate.’
I stifled a cough, tried to parry an alcoholic onslaught. ‘Maybe...’
And then my phone rang.